You have to admire our freshman senator. Even in the dead-heat of a primary race, when there are donors to court and stump speeches to give, Ted Cruz still found time to bring the quotidian business of Congress to a shuddering halt on Monday. More impressive still, he wasn’t even physically present as he threw the wrench into the gears. In the Senate, a legislator can block unanimous consent and head off a vote with nothing more than a letter, though I’d like to think that as he monitored internal polls in the New Hampshire cold and prepared for his pivot to South Carolina, he sent a Snapchat to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, informing him, brows furrowed with sincerity, that he planned to object to an uncontroversial vote on the confirmation of ambassadors to Sweden and Norway. It was the third time Cruz had phoned in his opposition to the State Department nominees from the campaign trail. He is the lone dissenter in the Senate.
His consistency has to be admired: No target is too marginal for Ted Cruz’s principled obstructionism. He’s tied this “blanket hold” on confirmation votes to his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal. The nominees don’t actually concern him at all, although perhaps they should. Samuel Heins, nominated to be the Ambassador to Norway, has been waiting 295 days to be confirmed. The country itself has been without a U.S. ambassador for more than two years. Azita Raji, the nominee for Sweden, has been waiting for 476 days. I’d be surprised if this wasn’t already perceived as an affront to our Scandinavian friends, both of whom are big Lone Star State investors.
Norway and Sweden rank in the top ten in terms of foreign direct investment in Texas. Norway keeps snapping up F-35s at $150 million a pop, God bless ’em, in spite of the shortcomings and malfunctions that have dogged the fifth-generation fighter. Lockheed Martin, by the way, builds the jets in Fort Worth.
Money aside, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, that stronghold of ethnic Swedes and Norwegians, made a salient point on the Senate floor. “I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard people on both sides of the aisle talk about how during this refugee crisis we need a strong and unified Europe… and Sweden in fact accepts more refugees per capita than any other country in the European Union. Norway expects to take in as many as 25,000 refugees this year,” she said.
And yet the United States has no ambassador to these countries. Cruz has demagogued that Syrian refugees pose an unacceptable security risk. A firm diplomatic presence in the countries that do accept them would be useful.
This latest episode of Cruz’s tastes like a weaker vintage of the budget showdown that failed to block the implementation of the healthcare law. There’s less at stake this time, apart from the incremental relationships abroad that make a country more secure. Cruz likes to portray himself as strong on national security, but his intransigence here does nothing but pointlessly fray our ties with reliable allies in treacherous times. Or perhaps, as Texas Monthly‘s own Erica Grieder suggests in her Cruz Rules, I’m failing to comprehend the machinations of a superior strategic intelligence.